By: Julie Ellett (Estimated reading time: 6 minutes)
Long ago, in a land far, far away, my family of four moved from the West Coast, laden with family friends, and support structures, to the East Coast, filled with the unknown. I was starting over in a new town, juggling twin 6-month-old babies. What I came to find was the beautiful thing about babies is that when you see other people with babies out in the world, you may feel a connection — an instant supportiveness, whether through a knowing smile, a grimace, or a chat. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to find some parent support groups in this new area to attend with the littles and connect with others experiencing the same adventure.
Looking ahead 15+ years, it’s just not the same dynamic. You don’t come face-to-face in the grocery store with another parent who has a sulky/perky/angsty/helpful teen in tow and stop to chat about the day-to-day happenings of what it looks like to parent an adolescent. In fact, the teens are usually not in tow, so that visual connector is absent, not to mention what the teen’s likely reaction would be if they were present and you did try to stop and chat about your teen-parenting experience. *Gasp. Shudder*
For many families, once children enter middle school the parenting role shifts dramatically. Gone are the days of meeting other parents through conventional parent-volunteering in the school, or heading over to the school to eat lunch with your kiddo and seeing other parents’ faces. As our adolescents begin to test their wings of social independence, we parents are also thrust into new social dynamics. It can be disorienting, confusing, and even lonely.
The tectonic shift of this developmental phase is intriguing, but we may be found without our parenting footing and know-how. Just as we hit our stride with our school-aged darlings, these darlings become shapeshifters and we start anew with all of the questions and learnings of how to move in the world as a parent of an adolescent. Before I encountered the new Parents of Adolescents and Teens (PAT) Program at PEPS, I’d never heard of parent support groups for parents of this age group. It just made SO much sense to me.
So, what’s the deal with this program for Parents of Adolescents and Teens (PAT)? And do I bring my teen?
No teens allowed, just us parents. The unique piece of this connectivity through the PAT Program (aside from its mere existence) is that these peer-support groups offered through PEPS have a foundational base made up of research-driven concepts, topics, and information that is paired with the experiential sharing of other parents and facilitators.
It’s the best of both worlds: here are approaches to parenting adolescents that have been scientifically shown to be the most helpful + hearing stories and brainstorming examples of challenges with other parents.
Is it really for me? I’ve made it this far.
I’m sending out all of the high-fives and congratulations because you HAVE made it this far. I will also say that as a facilitator for these Parents of Adolescents and Teens Groups, I have seen the incredible, empowered support that takes place within these sessions. The power of being heard and seen by your peers who are experiencing some of the same challenges is extremely potent. I’ve also seen parents’ bonds continue even after our time together ends. I still have a best friend from a parent peer-support Newborn PEPS Group I’d participated in back in 2008. It’s my hope and the mission of PEPS to provide a platform and space for that same relational opportunity with fellow parents of adolescents and teens.
Ok, so what do these groups really look like?
After the initial meet-and-greet of the first sessions where we evaluate our individual parenting styles and some of the basics of what to expect when parenting adolescents, there is freedom for each group to choose the direction of focus for our nine weeks together.
More than 14 discussion topics are offered, and parents submit a survey indicating which of those are most interesting to them for exploration and conversation. The range of topics is vast and includes themes such as ‘The Adolescent Brain’ or ‘How to Effectively Communicate with Your Adolescent.’ We also include vital information about ‘Adolescent Mental Health’ and ‘Adolescent Identity Development.’
It’s a veritable choose-your-own-adventure in a group in terms of discussion and learning possibilities — although, the joke’s on us as we have diminishing control over our sweet kiddo’s adventures and ALL of the topics are beautifully and inevitably relevant. One central and crucial point to take away from the PAT Program is although we are seeing a shift of our adolescents’ focal priorities from family to friends and we are preparing our teens for their big debut into adulthood, their connection and access to us as parents is vital.
I’m constantly running everywhere with kid activities, family events, and work. How am I ever going to have time for this?
This program is offered virtually over Zoom, which offers the flexibility of participating from whatever environment you can: lunch break? In your car during sports practice? And with flexibility in mind, the PAT Program is offered throughout each month at varying meet-up times — mornings, afternoons, and evenings — to increase opportunities for connection among families.
Each session runs for two hours and has been designed for parents to do deep learning on that week’s discussion topic, as well as explore true examples and have conversations on potential obstacles and ask questions.
Umm, I’m not sure how my kid will feel about me talking to other parents about them…
The Zoom environment can also mean you aren’t meeting with parents in your particular neighborhood. This has proven to be helpful for some families as the reticence of sharing their parenting challenges is lifted. As our adolescents and teens become more autonomous, we are discovering the balance of sharing our stories versus sharing their stories. Confidentiality is always expected in our PAT Group settings, and having participants from a wider breadth of geography adds to that anonymity.
Ok, I’m intrigued. How do I get started?
Learn more about the Program for Parents of Adolescents and Teens (PAT) on the PEPS website.
Then, register to be a part of this tremendously empowering program.
Can’t wait to see you there!